The Science of Loneliness
The latest issue of Science has this interesting news item about the rise of the "science of loneliness". A sample from the story:
Everyone knows what it's like to be lonely. It often happens during life's transitions: when a student leaves home for college, when an unmarried businessman takes a job in a new city, or when an elderly woman outlives her husband and friends. Bouts of loneliness are a melancholy fact of human existence.
But when loneliness becomes a chronic condition, the impact can be far more serious, says John Cacioppo, a social psychologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois. Cacioppo studies the biological effects of loneliness, and in a steady stream of recent papers, he and collaborators have identified several potentially unhealthy changes in the cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems of chronically lonely people. Their findings could help explain why epidemiological studies have often found that socially isolated people have shorter life spans and increased risk of a host of health problems, including infections, heart disease, and depression. Their work also adds a new wrinkle, suggesting that it's the subjective experience of loneliness that's harmful, not the actual number of social contacts a person has. “Loneliness isn't at all what people thought it was, and it's a lot more important than people thought it was,” Cacioppo says.